I have approximately 6,900 followers on Twitter.
That's a decent amount I think, although it's all relative. Justin Bieber, on the brink of becoming the world's first person to crack 40 million followers, has nearly 6,000 times more than me. In a single day, Bieber gains 50,000 followers, according to Twitter Counter, whereas I have gained less than 7,000 in 3.7 years.
I can't control who does or does not follow me. But according to Status People's Fake Follower checker, my followers are roughly 75% "good," with the remaining 25% being either "fake" or "inactive." This is all subjective, as it's unclear how exactly they define those three words. They also only take a sample of 500 followers, admitting anyone with a sizeable fanbase can't be guaranteed accurate results. But the percent seems to be in line with pretty much any user who has at least a few thousand followers.
For example, Alexia Tsotsis of TechCrunch also has 75% "good" followers, while Canadian Business magazine has 70% good followers. Canadian angel investor Boris Wertz has 76% good, while Beyoncé—who doesn't tweet anymore—is only 35% good. This random guy, also inactive, isn't doing too well with 61% good.
So it's fair to assume I haven't cheated. Well, I'm about to cheat.
When I first joined Twitter, and for the first two-plus years of using it, the idea of fake followers never crossed my mind—let alone buying and selling them. Last year I realized they existed. This year I realized they were far more prominent than I could have imagined. And they're dirt cheap.
Not always cheap, though. In my digging, I discovered that people buying followers have a lot of options to choose from. They can spend anywhere from $5 to $5,000 and they can get anywhere from 50 followers to one million followers. The quality also varies widely: from tweet-less accounts with default "egg" profiles and asburdly random usernames to well-crafted, legitimate-looking fakes, and even actual humans (presumably who get some small cut or favour in exchange for following buyers).
Quality is important but in this underground market it's not "you get what you pay for," according to my sources. Indeed, you can pay a lot of money for followers who are so fake that they're apt to be automatically deleted by Twitter within days of being created, meaning you lose a large portion of your purchase and your follower count fluctuates wildly for weeks. This is called "bleeding." Or you can find high-quality fakes that "stick" to your account for quite cheap. It's all about looking in the right places and trusting the right sellers.
So I decided to turn my Twitter account into a lab rat and see what happens. Throughout June, I'm going to buy followers. I'll buy 50 at a time, then I'll buy 20,000. I'll spend $100, then I'll spend $10. I'll see how many sellers deliver their promised numbers, how many fakes bleed, and just how dramatically the value of my purchases vary. Hopefully this doesn't completely ruin my account—and hopefully Twitter doesn't delete me—but if either of those things happen, I can always start fresh. It's only a Twitter account, after all.
At the end of the month, I'll write about my experience.
Please note: I will not be creating a list of good places to buy fakes, so don't expect that, and don't ask for it. I do not advocate acquiring fake social media fans. If this experiment accomplishes anything meaningful, it would be to have Twitter double down on eradicating fakes so this black market ceases to exist. Though I'm not getting my hopes up.